North

N.W.T. voted for change, soon MLAs will decide what that looks like

For the second straight election, voters in the Northwest Territories have signalled they’re ready for change. Soon, the work will begin to actually implement that. 

Voters across the Northwest Territories voted for change, with 12 new MLAs set to take their seats

Voters in the Northwest Territories signalled their desire for change on election night, soon the work begins to make that happen. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

For the second straight election, voters in the Northwest Territories have signalled they're ready for change. Soon, the work will begin to actually implement that. 

Tuesday's election brings in 12 new MLAs to the Legislative Assembly (that includes Jackie Jacobson, who won back the Nunakput seat he lost in 2015). In 2015, 11 new MLAs stepped into the Legislative Assembly for the first time.  

In one of the clearest signs voters are ready for something new, a record nine of 19 seats were claimed by women, bringing the territory just shy of gender parity in the 19th Legislative Assembly.  

"It's a lot of change, it's a lot of renewal, and it's a lot of people learning how the system works," said David Wasylciw, a political observer and the founder of Open NWT.    

"In any organization, if you bring in this much new blood, it's going to change how it works," he said. 

David Wasycliw, the founder of Open NWT, says he expects to see changes in the 19th Assembly as new MLAs get their footing. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
 

Early on, the optimism is high, with MLAs saying they plan on working together, to set clear priorities and improve on the contentious atmosphere present in the 18th Assembly. 

But as MLAs begin that work, they'll start dealing with entrenched bureaucratic systems, led by powerful deputy ministers, some of whom have been in their positions for years. 

"The government doesn't just change on a dime, it's a pretty big ship," Wasylciw said. "But it's a huge change, we haven't seen this kind of change very often in the territory," he said.

Caroline Wawzonek, who won Yellowknife South in a landslide, says she's hoping to work with government officials so elected MLAs can set the agenda and move it forward. 

"I'd like to see us utilize our public service in the best possible way," she said. "It's a matter of balance, I don't think it's going to be all or nothing, one way or the other."  

Caroline Wawzonek says she wants to find a balance between MLAs executing their vision and the existing public service. (Submitted)
 

In the Legislative Assembly, she said she expects to see a change in how cabinet and regular MLAs interact with each other, with a new premier on the way and only one incumbent cabinet minister retaining her seat. 

"They're gone. There's going to have to be a very new premiership, a very new cabinet," Wawzonek said. 

"It's not an all-or-nothing, it's not us against them, collectively this is the government we have to have a vision and we have to be driving toward it."

Deh Cho Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian says she sees an appetite for change among people in her communities, though there is skepticism that things will really change. 

"Like everybody else, I'm very hopeful and want people to move forward and be empowered," she said. 

Land claim negotiations for the Deh Cho First Nations bogged down over the past four years, and there's hope new perspectives — especially from the women at the table — could get them moving again, she said. 

"I think they will have a deeper understanding of how important it is to have self-determination as people," she said. "I'm thinking it will be a little bit cleared for them to understand and look at it from outside the box." 

At the same time, Norwegian also has some skepticism and concerns about maintaining continuity with programs that are working, with so many newcomers in the Assembly. 

"I'm a little bit concerned," she said. "But I'm sure once they get there, they'll figure it out." 

With files from Kate Kyle

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